How to make a commitment to anti-racism: Natalie Rousseau explores how to be an ally

Ever since attending my first yoga class with Natalie Rousseau, I have been a fan of this human and her thoughtfulness as a teacher and a community builder. I have had my eyes opened to the beauty of the seasons and the plant world through participation in her online courses,13 Moons, and The Witches Year. Her words are thoughtful and her silences are thoughtful. She recently composed her response to racism and shared helpful resources and expressed her personal commitments, and I’m grateful she gave me permission to repost that here. (You can learn more about her work and offerings at https://www.natalierousseau.com) If this posts inspires you to read, to share a response to something you’ve read, or to make your own commitments, let us know.

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Listening is an art….. . I’m taking this week off from posting my regular content here so that I can make space for other peoples voices and practice the art of listening. Though the moon is full and the wild roses are in bloom and there is so much beauty I would like to share, now is not the time. . . But I did want to say a little something about the art of listening, if I may. . . The purpose of muting myself this week was so that I could listen to other peoples voices, in particular the voices of black folks, indigenous peoples, and people of colour who are willing to speak at this moment about the reality of their lived experience. . . These are the voices that I want to hear and that I do believe we all need to hear. What we don’t need to hear is more white people’s opinions about what they think is really happening. That is not how we learn. That is not how we grow. . . I deal with this all the time in a different context. . . My daughter is transgender and I am continually amazed by how many well meaning cis- gendered people want to tell me their opinions and “beliefs” about trans people once they learn this. Yet most of these people do not have a transgender friend or family member, nor have they ever really listened to what transgender people have to say about their very own lives. . . Blows me away. . . I’m going to go back to being quiet here on my feed in a moment but I just want to ask one thing – notice who you are listening to right now and what kind of conversations you are having. Are your conversations validating your previously held point of view ? or are you learning some thing you? Are you listening to the voices of those that have the same lived experience as you? Or are you opening yourself up to hearing a different story? . . Listening is an art and it is a radical act in service of real change. . . #blacklivesmatter #decolonizeyourmind #listen #learn #change #behumble

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I have been fairly quiet here of late because there has been a lot going on behind the scenes. Like many of you I have been leaning into my own personal growth edge on the topic of anti racism and while the work is not new to me I am the first to admit I have been lazy about it in the past, leaving actions on a to do list that never got done. . . I aim to do better than that. It is true that this small business of mine is a one woman show and I often struggle to juggle my various responsibilities, but I can do better. . . If you know me at all then you know that I value education and I feel that in this regard education is a necessary first step before taking action. If I want my actions to be meaningful I have to understand their impact. This kind of learning will be ongoing for me and I still consider myself to be in the absolute beginner stage but I want to make my commitment to this learning clear to those of you that are in my community. . . Many of you have reached out to me in the last few weeks and I am touched by this, it also helped me to understand that I do have certain responsibilities in this regard and should not shirk those. As someone who values education I am committed to sharing as many resources as I can, particularly those I have used myself and found helpful. This morning I finally had the time to sit down and draft a newsletter to my community and it turned out to be too long for a newsletter so I posted it on my blog. . . In this blog post I shared where I stand in this moment, what my commitments are going forward, and a list of resources that I have worked with. . . I also invite those of you who are engaged in my learning communities to reach out to me directly if you have suggestions for how I can do better as I recognize I have blind spots and may not see what is obvious to you. . . I am not making these statements because I want to be praised – please do not praise me for doing the very least that I can do – but rather so that you can see that I am willing to speak up and take action, even if I make mistakes. I believe in the power of community to help us raise ourselves up. See the link in my bio for my full post.

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MY COMMITMENT TO ANTI -RACISM : JUNE 2020

We have just passed the summer solstice in this strange year of 2020 and it has been many moons since I posted to my blog. I have been quiet here for various reasons, which I won’t go into now, but part of my silence has been due to the fact that there are larger conversations I have wanted to engage but wasn’t sure how to. I started writing this post as a newsletter to my subscribers, but quickly realized it was too long and so decided to make it a blog post instead, which feels fitting and will hopefully help me to break the ice in regards to some of the other conversations I wish to start in my community spaces.

Today’s conversation is focused on the topic of anti-racism and my intention here is to share a bit of my own learning journey, direct folks towards resources I have found helpful, and make clear my own commitments.

In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd and the outpouring of BIPOC voices demanding change  I have doubled down on personal learning and have had many rich and uncomfortable conversations with friends, family members, and colleagues. I am committed to the work of anti-racism education and though I still get anxious about engaging this conversation with certain family members I am no longer allowing myself to take the comfortable way out as I recognize the harm that this can cause.

Many of you have reached out to me in the past few weeks to ask for resources and to talk through some of the emotions you are feeling and this has made me realize how important it is for me to be clear about where I stand on this matter. I do not in any way self identify as a leader or influencer, but in my role as an educator (of sorts), I recognize that I have also been shirking my responsibility in some ways and I can do better.

I am a white woman, of settler descent, who has spent most of her adult life living in predominately white rural communities. Though I have been blessed to live within the traditional unceded territories of two vibrant First Nations communities, my day to to day life and the work I do has not been well integrated with those communities.  I have been teaching yoga, meditation, and wellness practices for twenty years and the majority of my students have been white. Not all, but most. I now teach a lot online which means I don’t actually know the ethnicity or race of many of my students, but I can pretty much guess that the majority of them are white simply because wellness spaces are most often dominated by white folks.  I have thought about this for a long time and have been reflecting on it with greater urgency over the last month as I feel it is important that I recognize these facts and make changes where I can.

For all my white students, I want you to know that I am committed to doing anti-racist work and will support you in doing the same as I believe this is our responsibility. I recognize this will be uncomfortable for many of us and I will be doing my best to create safe spaces for learning and conversation where we can lean into this discomfort. Because we have to do this work, we really do.  If you believe that cultural politics and wellness or spirituality do not mix then this may be the fork in the road for us and that is okay. I know which road I am walking on and I respect that you have your own path to follow.

For all my BIPOC students, I thank you for being part of the communities that I facilitate and I am committed to listening and learning. I cannot promise I won’t make mistakes, but I won’t hold back out of fear of doing something wrong anymore.  I will take action in every way I can and will make amends when necessary. If you enjoy being part of my learning communities and have suggestions for me on how I can make these spaces feel safer, more reflective of your lived experience, and welcoming of greater diversity I invite you to reach out to me directly. 

Below you will find some resources for learning as well as a shortlist of my commitments at this time.

SELF EDUCATION & ONGOING LEARNING

I place a high value on personal education because I know that change cannot occur unless we experience a shift in our understanding. I am fundamentally committed to anti-racism but I also understand that there is an essential learning process that must take place before I can take action in ways that are truly supportive. I know that this learning will be life long and I will continue to learn by listening to the voices of those whose lived experience is different than mine. Because a number of you have reached out to me in the last few weeks to talk about learning resources I am also sharing some that I have found particularly valuable here. There are many great learning resources out there but these are ones I can personally speak to as I have used them.

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad: 

I was introduced to Layla Saad’s work a couple of years ago and made my way through her original workbook on Me and White Supremacy, which has now become a best selling book. I started this work after an illuminating conversation with a friend, which helped me to see that educating myself on this topic was my responsibility. I will be honest in saying that when I first started reading it I found the language around white supremacy to be strong and I felt that the type of racism Layla was speaking to was more of an “American problem”. I know longer feel this way and I’m grateful that I started with this particular (work) book as it helped to set a foundation for my further learning.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

I think this book should be required reading for all white identified people. For real. It’s that important. If you feel triggered by phrases such as white supremacy or white fragility, then you definitely need to read this book! Robin does an excellent job of explaining how systemic racism manifests and expresses itself in the real world and helps you to understand some of our most common reactions to conversations about race can be harmful. If you are committed to expanding your view and unlearning your unconscious biases this should be the next book you read.

Here is an article by the author that summarizes some of the key points of the book. 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

If you like to learn through storytelling then you will appreciate this beautiful and heartbreaking book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The prose is gorgeous and the story is told in the form of a letter, written by the author to his young son. He tells the story of his life, taking you on a journey and gifting you the opportunity to feel his experience, which is that of a black man in America. Where the other two books I have shared are educational and deeply important to supporting the dismantling of racism within ourselves, this one will actually give you a window into how someone else’s experience of the world has been shaped by race consciousness.

My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem

This book changed everything for me with its focus on trauma and the value of understanding cultural somatics. Resmaa is a therapist and educator who seeks to address the root of enduring racism within our societies by speaking directly to the experience of trauma within our bodies. This book is filled with somatic experiencing exercises that are extremely helpful and he speaks to the trauma of black, white, and blue (police) bodies. I think that this is such an important book and personally feel that we cannot move forward in the conversation around race if we do not address the topic of trauma, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Rachel Cargle’s Free #DoTheWork E-Course

Rachel Cargle is a fabulous educator and she offers a free 30-day e-course called #DoTheWork. This course is meant to support those who wish to be true allies to black women in particular, but I think you will find it will help you to be a better ally in general. You can sign up to receive the course from her and I encourage you to set aside time each day for it. In one month you will learn so much! I really appreciated how she laid this out and I encourage you to sign up and commit to some summer un-learning.

Expressive Writing Prompts to Explore White Fragility (and Spiritual Bypassing) by Leesa Renée

Leesa Renée has put together a series of writing prompts for those who self identify as highly sensitive. I have shared this resource with a number of you already as I have heard how you feel overwhelmed with strong emotions when diving into this work. I hear you in this and I myself like to take the time to learn in quiet ways before engaging in public conversations, but I think it is very important that we challenge ourselves to be more resilient in this domain. BIPOC folks do not have the privilege of turning away from the topic of race and I think that taking the time to examine this privilege is the very least we can do. Leesa has kindly put this resource together for those who need a gentle hand getting started with the work.

Decolonize First by Ta7talíya Michelle Lorna Nahanee 

This slim workbook put together by indigenous changemaker Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee is packed with useful resources. The exercises in the workbook will get you thinking and help you to consider what sort of actions might be helpful in supporting indigenous communities. I love the focus on decolonizing the lens through which we view the world, starting with the question “why do I believe what I believe?”  and walking you through the five stages of grieving your complicity in settler colonialism, taking you from denial to acceptance – and onwards into action. I think this workbook would be valuable to anyone, no matter where you live, but if you identify as a white Canadian I encourage you to order a copy immediately and get started on the work because decolonizing is a process. Start unlearning today.

Indigenous & Canadian Histories 101: What You Didn’t Learn in High School by Sarah Robinson

Sarah Robinson of Rainwatch Advising has put together a powerful short film that every Canadian should watch. History is very important to me and I am not new to this kind of learning, but I learned some new things I did not know about the history of indigenous people’s in this film. I knew about residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, but I did not know about the effect of “Indian Status” on women and communities or the High Arctic Relocations. If you also do not know about these things I encourage you to watch this film today. Ideally, watch it with friends of your family members and have a conversation about it. Right now (June 21-26th 2020) you can access this film for free thanks to TakingITGlobal’s #RisingYouth program and their partnership with Rainwatch Advising. Click this link to access the film. 

Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga To Create a Just World by Michelle Cassandra Johnson

This small book by yoga teacher and Dismantling Racism educator Michelle Cassandra Johnson is packed with information that is meant to help us to be more discerning in how we engage with our practices of yoga. This book is especially important for yoga teachers, studio owners, and teacher trainers, but equally important for all students. Michelle is an incredible speaker and she is now teaching her workshops online, which is fabulous. I took my first workshop with her last week through Yoga Outreach and I came away with much to think about. I will be working my way through some of the action steps suggested over the months and years to come.

PROFESSIONAL ACTIONS & COMMITMENTS

I do not run a large business, and my sphere of influence is quite small. I don’t have any employees nor do I operate a public space within my local community.  At the same time, I recognize that I do teach to a fairly wide audience through my online work and I offer live events in various locations in the province where I live (and beyond) so I have been thinking alot about what kind of concrete actions I can make in support of anti-racism and decolonization. My work in the world falls within the field of wellness, an area that has long been dominated by white body supremacy. This is something I have been aware of for a while but not entirely understood and was not entirely sure how to address. I recognize that BIPOC folks may not feel safe or feel themselves to be reflected in many wellness spaces, I also know that there may be other barriers, such as cost, that keep wellness spaces out of reach. I want to do what I can to shift this and so at this moment, I am committed to the following actions. I also invite those members of my community who self identify as BIPOC to reach out to me directly if they have suggestions for anything else I can do.

  • Making a statement of territory acknowledgment at each live and online event I teach. I will be doing this as an act of respect for the people whose land I live on or may be teaching on, but also as a way of acknowledging my own commitment to and appreciation for the land I am in relationship with. I receive so much inspiration, wisdom and healing from the lands I live and work in and I feel that a public acknowledgment of this fact is important going forward. I will also be inviting all participants in my live events to introduce themselves by locating whose territory they currently live within and will provide resources to support this kind of learning.
  • Offering scholarships for BIPOC, gender fluid and transgender folks who wish to study with me. I have long recognized that cost is a barrier when it comes to accessing wellness education and while I have informally offered scholarships in the past when requested, I am now making these scholarships easily available for all my online programs and will be looking into implementing a sliding scale system for my live events wherever possible.
  • Making donations to support cultural programs for the First Nation’s communities near me is something that I have been doing on and off for the past couple of years, but it is something I want to be able to do more regularly. At the moment I am offering my Summer Wisdom online workshop for just $29 and 50% of all sales made between June 21st – Aug 31st will be donated to the Li’lwat Nation community fund, and my fall programming will also reflect this desire to give back through financial contributions. I am also committed to creating more fundraising opportunities so I can continue to support Yoga Outreach and the work that they do.
  • Centering BIPOC voices in any way that I can. I will do this by sharing educational resources written by BIPOC folks and learning from as many BIPOC teachers as I am able to. I will also actively look for opportunities to support BIPOC educators and teachers in the wellness field.
  • Finally, I am committed to creating brave and safe learning spaces in which the communities I work with can work through their discomfort and engage in difficult conversations to support personal growth. If you know me at all then you know this is something I have always valued, but my commitment to this has been strengthened this year and will be more clearly reflected in my work.

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